1 Chapter 1: Prelude

"Miss Victoria Snow, isn't it?" He introduced himself with a slight bow and a nod. "I'm Rupert Barclay. Perhaps, you heard of me."

"I certainly have, Mr. Barclay. You're with Parliament." She allowed him to take her hand for a quick caress of her fingers. He stood back for a moment to give her an unabashed assessment. His gaze reflected his admiration of her pale pink suit with the cream silk camisole, and the understated pink pearls at her throat and ears. A comb with tiny seed pearls swept up one side of her champagne

blond hair.

"Yes, rather. Say, are you with someone here?" He glanced around the garden and did a survey of the mingling guests. Most were couples in their mid to late fifties and older, with a few fortyish, single women thrown in for balance.

"No, I'm alone. You see, I'm not quite fond of garden parties, but Mrs. Guthrie-Smythe is a dear friend."

Rupert held up his hand. "Say no more! I'm in complete agreement. If you'd rather, I'd like to take you for a pint at this wonderful little pub in Chelsea."

When he offered his arm, she cupped hers around his, and placed her hand on the sleeve of his day coat. They began a leisurely stroll towards the terrace, eventually to pass through one of the sets of double doors leading to Mrs. Guthrie-Smythe's solarium.

"By the way," she ventured, "how do you know my name?"

"Simple deduction." Rupert's horsey smile revealed uneven teeth. "I asked around until I found someone knowledgeable with your circumstances. I had to ask 'who is that beautiful blonde over there with the precious smile?' and I was told, 'why, Miss Victoria Snow, a writer with Country Equine Magazine.' A writer and a horsewoman, too, no doubt! Well, I had to meet you."

She laughed. "Would you like me to interview you?"

He leaned closer, his walnut eyes rife with meaning. "I'd prefer you come away with me for that drink and perhaps a tour of my flat. I have several trophies and medals I won for my horsemanship, and I'm quite proud of them. More so than my rather droll seat in Parliament."

"Actually, you're position in Parliament is much to be admired, Mr. Barclay." She leaned back a little to catch his gaze. "So I would be remiss not to accept your invitation."

"Bravo! Mrs. Guthrie-Smythe's loss is my gain! Oh!" He paused to wag a finger. "You must call me Rue from now on."

She smiled sweetly, "or what...Rue?"

His lips came closer still, almost brushing her ear. He whispered quite salaciously, "Or I shall spank you, naughty girl, with my crop!"

A week later, Allie bought herself a new outfit, a sassy red Chanel number she found at one of the shops on Kings Street. Her share of the profits would also pay for a return trip to Paris, money garnered from the processed gold that had once been dear Mr. Barclay's medals as well as the gemstones from his safe,

Before she went home to pack, she bought a London Times at the newsstand and read, with amused interest, the article titled "Parliament Member Mourns Loss."

"Rupert Barclay, prominent member of Parliament, today accused a mystery woman of absconding with the gold medals he won for several horsemanship tourneys, as well as valuable pieces of family jewelry. 'She was rather cheeky,' he told the Times. 'The medals are worth a few pounds melted down, but, of course, to me they're priceless in sentimental value. My grandmother's diamond and emerald brooches were both meant one day for the future Mrs. Barclay.' Asked how the mystery woman went about pilfering his prizes and pins, Mr. Barclay preferred not to comment on the details leading up to the incident."

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